Cutting Pollution: It's About Efficient Land Development Too

While the debate about fuel economy standards unfolds in Congress and across the country, a key tool for reducing global warming pollution is being ignored: Smart growth. Pollution from vehicles is, after all, the product of three factors: mpg X carbon intensity of fuel in the tank X miles driven.

"Growing Cooler," a new report from the Urban Land Insitute (full disclosure, I was a lead reviewer) makes the case that changing the last factor can play a big role in reducing pollution. It synthesizes scores of studies that measure the benefits of development which is compact, walkable and convenient to shopping and work opportunities. If you live in such a place, odds are the miles you drive will be cut 20-40 percent.

Just as compelling is the pent-up demand for such development, which is expected to zoom upward as the Baby Boom generation ages. According to Chris Nelson of Virginia Tech, "[m]ore than half of the built environment...we will see in 2025 did not exist in 2000..." providing a remarkable opportunity to offer more housing choices that require less daily driving.

Evidence of unmet demand includes a "...recent national survey of developers [which] found that more than 60 percent agreed with the following statement about compact, walkable development: 'In my region there is currently enough market interest to support significant expansion of these alternative developments'..."

Among those keen on better development are Boomers like my parents. After their nest emptied out of us kids, they sold their detached house with two-car garage and moved to a townhome located nearer to shops, restaurants and friends. According to Nelson, childfree households will account for 88 percent of the growth in households from 2000 to 2025 so that by "2025, only 28 percent of households will have children." That boom will drive up demand for compact, walkable development much, much further.

Better environmental performance, a better match with consumer demand. Good reasons that smart growth can be counted as a key part of the strategy to combat climate change.

About the Authors

Deron Lovaas

Director, EEFA, Resilient Communities, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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